Review of An Introduction to Regional Englishes
|AUTHOR: Joan C. Beal
TITLE: An Introduction to Regional Englishes
SERIES TITLE: Edinburgh Textbooks on the English Language
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
Simone C. Bacchini, School of Languages, Linguistics, and Film, Queen Mary,
University of London, London, United Kingdom
This is an introductory text on regional variation within England; it covers
topics such as pronunciation, morphological, syntactic, and lexical variation as
well as theoretical issues, such as variation and identity, levelling and
diffusion. Although some of the topics are treated from a diachronic point of
view, overall the topic of variation is looked at synchronically.
The volume, like other titles in the series, is aimed at undergraduates, as well
as secondary school students taking classes on the English language, as well as,
presumably, the interested general public. As such, its aim is to give an
overview of the field informed both by past and current research.
Beal divides her book into five chapters plus an introduction. In the
introduction, the author provides an overview not only of the work but also of
the field of English dialectology; its origins, methods, directions, and scope.
Even in this brief section, the freshness of Beal's approach is apparent.
English dialects (and indeed the whole field of dialectology) are presented as
an evolving reality. The author clearly communicates the usefulness of studying
English dialects; her passion for the topic is clear but she successfully
manages to share her knowledge and appreciation for dialects without fetishising
What becomes clear from Beal’s account is that, far from being moribund, English
dialects are thriving, albeit in a state of constant flux. A point clearly made
by the author (p.7) is that, in the twenty-first century, just as in the
twentieth, the nineteenth, and even in earlier periods, dialects in England are
not disappearing so much as changing, albeit perhaps more rapidly than ever before.
Chapters two to four introduce regional variation by addressing the areas of
''accent'' (chapter one), morphology and syntax (chapter two), and lexis (chapter
three). Each of these chapters is comprehensive and, like the rest of the book,
refers to older, ''classic'' research as well as more recent works, including
Beal's own. This approach clearly shows the evolving state of dialectology and
does not shy away from presenting controversial points, whilst keeping the
discussion easy to follow and coherent.
This slender volume, part of the ''English Textbooks on the English Language''
series, is an excellent introduction to the field of English dialectology. Part
of its appeal lies precisely in its compact size, coupled with clarity of
The book is geographically focused: it deals with language variation within
England -- as opposed to the British Isles, the UK, or the much larger
English-Speaking world. The author does refer to research conducted outside of
England but only to shed more light on the topics she discusses. This approach
makes the text theoretically sound and up to date, whilst keeping it coherent
and easier to follow.
One minor problem with this otherwise excellently crafted small volume is that
there appear to be inconsistencies in the transcription conventions (especially
in chapters two and three). For example, on pp. 11-12, lists of regional
variants are given, both square and forward slashes are used. This was probably
missed during editing and, although not a major problem, it can engender
confusion, especially in novice readers. In addition, this reviewer is of the
opinion that, particularly in an introductory work, a brief section on the
conventions of transcribing sound would be helpful, as would be a brief glossary
of linguistic terms.
Another strength of Beal’s work is that, unlike other (especially introductory)
works on language variation, the author manages to inform her reader not only
about the ''whats'', but -- importantly -- also about the ''whys'' of variation. Her
two final chapters (five and six) address the topics of ‘levelling’ and
‘diffusion’ as agents of change, and of the relationship between language and
identity. Both chapters are very clearly written and as well as referring to
older, established theories and research, they make use of more recent
methodology (like Llamas's (1999, 2007, Llamas & Watt 2010) use of the identity
questionnaire (IDQ)). This means that readers are better equipped to understand
variation and to reflect on their own linguistic choices, as well as those of
their communities, both locally and at the wider, national level.
Importantly, each chapter is concluded by a small number of appropriate
exercises and suggested activities, as well as a selection of further readings,
making the book very valuable for teaching and for independent study. Usefully,
Beal refers the reader to online resources, such as the British Library's sound
archive, which hosts recordings from the Survey of English Dialect (SED),
recorded in the 1960s, and the Millennium Memory Bank, a set of oral history
recordings made in 1999. Another useful and user-friendly research tool the
author refers her reader to is the BBC's ''voices'' website. Given the widespread
use and easy accessibility of the internet, the inclusion of such online
databases will be appreciated by both instructors and students for the potential
to help any interested party gain a better, first-hand understanding of the
Overall, Beal's book is a very welcome addition to the existing literature on
English dialectology. It manages to be rigorous, engaging, and up to date whilst
remaining user-friendly, not least because of its manageable size.
The two very minor flaws pointed out earlier (inconsistency of transcription and
lack of a glossary) could easily be addressed in a future edition. However, they
do not by any means detract from the quality of the book.
Llamas, Carmen. 1999. A new methodology: data elicitation for social and
regional variation studies. Leeds Working Papers in Phonetics and Linguistics.
Llamas, Carmen. 2007. A place between places: language identities in a border
town. Language in Society. 36(4). 579-604.
Llamas Carmen and Watt, Dominic. (eds.). 2010. Language and Identities.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Simone C. Bacchini has recently completed a PhD on the linguistic encoding
of the experience of physical pain and chronic illnesses by a group of
Italian speakers. His research interests are ub sociolinguistics, language
change and variation, discourse analysis and functional approaches to
language, especially Systemic Functional Grammar. Because of the topic of
his doctoral research, he has developed a particular interest in the
language of medicine and medical encounters. He is currently working as a
social sciences curator and content specialist at the British Library, London.